And so, after a very humid and crowded 36 hours in Sanur, we’ve made our way to Ubud. As much as we were reluctant to admit it, I think Hayley and I were both anxious to get out of Sanur. We’d booked our first two nights in Bali there based mostly on the fact that it was reasonably close to the airport, and because we’d heard its nickname was “Snore” — which sounds pretty enticing when you’re dreaming of a deserted Bali beach. Instead Sanur ended up being… well, kind of gross. It was a nice introduction to Southeast Asia, sure, and an excellent place to hang out by the pool. But beyond that? The most notable feature of its beach was the oil tanker off shore, and, as I mentioned, just walking down the street was a bit of a perilous exercise. Which is why we were so thrilled this afternoon when the cab we’d hired to Ubud dropped us off here:
Ubud is green, mountainous, and urbanized in a way that’s somehow flashily commercial and charmingly deteriorating at the same time. Its sidewalks (sidewalks!) are lined with boutiques slinging yoga gear, batik-style handbags, and carved wooden handicrafts, earthy cafes juicing wheat grass and sleek Indo joints serving curries and ginger-infused cocktails. Amid all of which you’ll sometimes stumble upon some crumbling temple from which a dozen tiny, concrete Buddhas sit making mischievous faces at passersby.
The coolest thing we happened upon yesterday, though, was the Monkey Forest. Now, I use the term “happened upon” incredibly loosely here for two reasons: One, the Monkey Forest was one of the very few activities we’d actually placed in the mental “must-do” column when “planning” this trip. Two, we were walking down Monkey Forest Road when we suddenly realized the street was about to dead-end into thick jungle cover. Still, this is the kind of place you really could just stumble onto out of nowhere: we’d been so busy checking out the happy hour specials on the at cafes, politely turning down offers of massages and cab rides every few feet, and noting which bars had free wi-fi that we were pretty stunned when we realized we’d ended up here:
I should stop to mention here that Hayley had been particularly jazzed about seeing some monkeys from the very moment the word “Asia” came up in that cold caravan in Arrowtown so many months ago. Her nickname at home, apparently, is “Monkey,” and she coos over their very mention the way some people might go gaga at the first sign of penguins or koalas. The moment we’d stepped up to the forest gate, I’d already lost her. I was up at the ticket counter buying a 20,000 rupiah entry while she was off in the corner having a staring match with a macaque.
The cool thing about the Monkey Forest is that it’s not like a zoo: the monkeys aren’t caged in or trained to behave for your enjoyment. They just live in this forest, which is immense and strung with vines and inlaid with cobblestone paths. (In an apparent bid to make this the blog with the world’s most unintentional DisneyLand analogies, I will tell you in all honesty that it reminded me a bit of the Indiana Jones ride. What? I have a problem.) Walking along, you can actually hear the trees vibrating with the movement of the monkeys. You can hear the leaves start to twitch when one leaps off his branch, and the sudden ripple effect of the surrounding branches humming and rustling as every monkey within a hundred meters shrieks and bounds his way off to join his friends. You can see huge, silvery, elder-statesmen monkeys sitting regally on top of stone pillars; mother monkeys with babies clinging to their stomachs or their breasts; and lone monkeys sitting casually eating bananas and people-watching as if they were eating an everything bagel on a bench in Central Park.
But perhaps the most entertaining thing you can see is a monkey going after something it really, really wants. And I can now tell you that this is doubly entertaining when it’s your friend who has whatever it is the monkey’s after.
See, for all Hayley’s love of monkeys, they seemed to love her even more. Within five minutes of entering the Monkey Forest, a particularly feisty character had scrambled up her leg, hopped onto her shoulder, and was pawing at her water bottle while licking her shoulder.
“Jess! Jess! What do I do???” Hayley started squealing.
I, being an excellent friend and travel companion, responded, “You should look at me and smile! These pictures are hysterical!” while snapping away on my Nikon.
After a few moments of shock, Hayley released the bottle, and the monkey scampered off with it into the trees. I, of course, not being the one now covered in monkey saliva, thought this whole scene had just been a bonus – sort of like when you hold out your hands full of bread crumbs at San Juan Capistrano and the swallows cover you like it’s the early bird special at the Sizzler buffet. I just laughed, told her we’d just gotten more than we’d paid for, and led us down a little off-shoot path.
About ten feet down the path, there were three monkeys parked in the middle of the walkway, and a girl about my age biting her nails and shaking. “I’m scared!” she yelled out to me.
“It’s cool – they’re just monkeys!” I told her, continuing down the path and beckoning Hayley to follow.
But the girl yelled out “No!” and latched onto my wrist. “I’m scared.”
The monkeys, who had up until this point been sitting on their haunches looking relaxed, suddenly turned towards Hayley. The biggest of the three leapt up and grabbed hold of her purse, then started biting at the strap and tearing at the sides. “My bag!” Hayley started yelling, at which point, I’m now sorry to say, I pulled out my camera in anticipation of another YouTube-worthy display.
But this was slightly more serious. The water bottle from before could be easily replaced, and indeed it would have to be: we’d watched that monkey scurry off into the forest with it like a squirrel hiding its nut; that thing was never to be seen again. Hayley’s purse, containing her money, ID, credit cards, and phone, was another story entirely. But that monkey wanted it. Out of nowhere he was scratching Hayley’s legs and baring his teeth, tugging on her bag with a strength that shocked me when I tried to intervene and pull the purse away. By interfering, I seem to have offended the monkey’s accomplice, who lunged at me and gave me a sinister grin that made me suddenly realize, good God, monkeys have incisors like fangs. The vampire monkey chased me around in circles while his friend kept clawing at Hayley’s bag until, eventually, a park employee came running towards us making clucking sounds with his tongue (which I can only imagine were supposed to annoy the monkeys into leaving). While, I assume, the monkeys were distracted, a tall white guy with flip-flops and a DSLR around his neck came charging towards Hayley, kicked the purse out of the monkey’s clutches, and frightened the whole lot of them into scattering off back into the forest.
Hayley just stood there with a jagged new hole in her now-strapless handbag, looking watery-eyed and shaken.
“Right,” she said, “I can’t stay here. We need to go now.”
“I hope,” I said to her a few minutes back down the road, “that this doesn’t taint your opinion of all monkeys. I mean, you love them so much!”
“No,” she answered matter-of-factly, “I don’t like monkeys any more. I think I’ll need a new nickname.”
Fortunately, there are few things dinner and half-priced Bin Tangs seated cross-legged on the floor cannot fix. Even when you’re just a five-minute walk from the scene of a near-monkey-mugging.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go get ready for Tibetan Bowl Meditation at the Yoga Barn. I told Hayley it would help her get over her Post-Monkey Stress Disorder.